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University Ultimate 2016: North Men’s

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The Northern division is brought to us by Thomas Daly

Sheffield Hallam 

We start with Division 1A’s new boys, Sheffield Hallam. They are a relatively unknown quality now due to the loss of a lot of quality players from last year and will be looking to current third years to lead the way and put their own spin on their team. Important wins over Central Lancashire and Bangor in more than blustery conditions show this team have enough resilience to not give up and be a constant threat from start to finish, a concept that seems to be engrained in the club’s DNA. It’s underpinned by their unpredictability and also by their willingness to adapt to different offences. The club have played down their chances this year of having any major impact in the league, but do not underestimate them.

Watch out for Rhys Walker who, despite just starting university this summer, has played for Junior powerhouses Arctic in Birmingham. He has shown signs of being a more than capable handler and in this division and can only get better.

As previously alluded to, a number of the first team from last year have moved on in some way leaving captain Jordan Harrison and other key players Scott Kenney, Drew Fitton and Muneer Fergiani being the go-to guys as they look to steady the ship following the exodus. It is a perfect opportunity for lesser experienced players to step up and use this year to improve and learn from a tough league.

What will help Hallam is the team chemistry on and off the pitch through both male and female members. The lack of animosity within the club will definitely help them move forward on the pitch this year.

The club are preparing hard for outdoors due to the lack of experience and through that they hope to prove to be tough to beat. Their first game, against Manchester, is a very tough ask but typically of their club spirit, expect them to come out of the game with positivity regardless of the result. Expect this team to get stronger with every game they play.

As for this year, there is no real rivalry within the group, but equally important to the club, unsurprisingly, is their game against Sheffield University in their Varsity match. Their experience in this division will hugely assist their ability going into that match and if they can keep their strong positive attitude throughout the year, they will be a force. The match between them and Durham 2 will be a game that both feel they can win, and both have the ability to put on a very good show. It could be worth keeping an eye out for.

Durham 1

Last year saw Durham finish second in their league and fifth at Nationals giving the club something to aim for this year, to improve on those positions. Winning the division is certainly a real prospect, despite Manchester’s continued dominance in the league. Breaking into the top four at Nationals is also something that they have the ability within the squad to do as well.

Durham have also picked up two University of Birmingham players in GB U24 hopefuls Steve Gillman and Will Collier which will help fill any void left by outgoing players Alexis Long, Carlo Hill and Alex Koch. The arrival of Joey Reines from Cambridge will also be a fantastic addition to the club and definitely one to watch.

Callum Wordsworth and Dylan Spiers, brother of new GB U24 coach Callum Spiers, will be at the helm this year and will be leading from the frontline. The admittedly competitive Dylan says he is determined not to live in Callum’s shadow and wants to be known for his own ability rather than by the reputation of his brother. Expect that ambition from their captain to shine through this year and propel the club to make a real go of this season. The younger Spiers already has one accolade over his older brother by being captain of his university team and it’s easy to anticipate him collecting more accolades sooner rather than later.

Durham are also looking to enter a third team into BUCS this year and plan to exploit SMOG’s lofty ambitions by utilising more home-grown talent in order to develop the club across the board, something that could set them apart from their counterparts in the division.

Durham’s first game is actually against their second team, a slightly different situation than for everyone else, since Durham 2 were promoted last year. The plan in their preparation is for plenty of scrimmages to get into an early competitive mind-set.

The big game this year is against Manchester. The loss against Halcyon in the league last year was made up through a revenge win at Nationals. Spiers confesses that their ‘Kings of the North’ chant during the latter match may have been somewhat ‘provocative’ but also enjoys the fact that they did win the match. They are also keen to meet St. Andrews again as they are tied 1-1 after last year.

So, could having two teams in the same league affect the harmony within the club? Spiers thinks not stating that ‘it’s exciting having two teams and it’s a testament to the depth within our club’. He then went on to talk about how he fears for the survival of Durham seconds but that the threat of relegation will spur them on to become better players overall. Expect Durham to do well this season, but any injuries to the firsts could be costly across the board, especially to the seconds and thirds.

York

York continue to find themselves in the purgatory of mid-table. Whilst they fancy their chances against the league’s new boys in Durham 2 and Sheffield Hallam, breaking into the top three seems set to continue to elude them with Leeds, Durham and Manchester all boasting extremely strong options.

The good news for York is the emergence of Josh Porter. Porter’s continued progression in development, disc skills and aerial ability backs up captain Edward Jackson’s claims that he has ‘become the lynchpin of the York offence’.

Speaking of Jackson, he has been the man to step forward to fill the void left by outgoing players and will look to his right-hand man, Greg Smith, for inspiration with decision making and to provide his influential advice and guidance off the pitch.  As well as his renowned moves on the dancefloor, Smith will no doubt be a key member of the continuously improving York side and will be extremely beneficial for the less experienced players with his cool, calm and patient manner.

The previous loss of Luke Burgess and Conrad Wilson could potentially hurt York, but the club definitely have the wherewithal to recognise this and will prepare for that. They are likely to have Wilson back for Nationals and his training with Clapham may very much come in handy, though obviously Nationals is something that York will have to work for in order to qualify. The addition of Matthew Carson to the coaching group will also benefit York in the long run.

As for the preparation and adaptability needed from last year, expect the style of play to change from the York you may be used to seeing. Look for them to play more as a team rather than relying on the same few players. The club will more than likely strip back to basics with improved fitness and throwing in order to retain a current level of ability, giving them something to push on and improve from. More gelling as a single unit off the pitch could prove imperative towards any development this year.

York are without rivalries currently, but will be looking forward to their match against Durham in order to really test themselves against a strong side. Keep an eye out for their match against Sheffield Hallam as well, as both teams have lost a few players and both keen to prove a point. That match up has the potential to be high intensity and pretty entertaining to watch.

Durham 2

In an intriguing twist to this group, Durham have two teams competing this year in the top division, which is a very impressive feat for the club. Not many people are giving the second team a chance, not least because of the strong first team that they have. They have predicted, like most clubs, that it will be either Durham or Manchester to win the title this year but are open to causing a few upsets within the group targeting York, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds.

As for this year, there are a number of second years who are expected to emerge as vital players for the second team and really assist with any chance they may have. That being said, the experienced players will still be looked at throughout the year to call the lines. There could potentially be some interchange throughout the year but there will be an added plus of always having two or three players with first team experience on hand. The fact that the squad is much smaller than Durham 1 will mean more pitch time for the seconds, a factor that could really assist them this year.

The standard of Ultimate will be much higher than anything the seconds have experienced before and the competition will be fierce. However, this team did not get promoted for nothing, so look for them to adapt and change their style of play and be more adventurous, as they have nothing to lose and a point to prove at the same time.

Their first game is the big match against the first team. Knowing their opponents so well could be an advantage and they will go into their game with their heads held high. Despite being the second team, captain Max Clifford believes that his team are more than capable of exceeding expectations in that match and throughout the year. Clifford also believes that having two teams in the same league will do more positive than negative for club morale and he two will only help each other improve along the way.

The obvious rivalry for the second team will be their first game of the year against the first team, but they will love to test their mettle against fellow new boys, Sheffield Hallam. The winning team in that match will definitely fancy their chances of survival this year.

Manchester

The always strong Manchester are looking forward to this year’s league but have admitted that the strength of the league is such that anyone could step up. Vased on last year’s results, they will expect it to be between themselves and Durham 1.

International-level additions such as Robbie Kyme and Enda O’Ceilleachair are sure to aid Manchester’s title push and the fruition of many of last year’s rookies training with Manchester Ultimate will also assist greatly in that aspect. The fight for starting places is going to be an intriguing battle within itself at the club.

Luckily for Manchester, they have been able to retain some of their stronger players with captain Steve Dixon noting Pepe Espinosa and Oli Gray in particular. The retention of these players is likely to benefit the blossoming rookies in the long term as well.

Dixon is content with their play last year despite results not always going in their favour and will look to improve results to reflect their ability this year. Dixon also jokes that if his team are able to remember how to throw outdoors again, he will be more than happy.

The big game that Manchester will want to win is against Durham 1 who beat them last season. Dixon appreciates the pressure of those matches as he believes it prevents complacency.

Steve Dixon (Manchester) playing for Chevron Action Flash at UKU Nationals this year. Photo by Andrew Moss.

Steve Dixon (Manchester) playing for Chevron Action Flash at UKU Nationals this year. Photo by Andrew Moss.

Leeds

Talking to other teams, no-one is expecting Leeds to challenge for the trophy this year, but bet against them at your peril. The confidence in their squad is evident and they plan on being a top Division 1 team and aiming for medals. Captain Will Carter, fresh from a year abroad in the USA, believes strongly in what he describes as a strong, hard-working, highly talented squad brimming with experience.

And to support his claims of experience, Carter himself has played on GB squads since 2012, Robert ‘Cracker’ White is a GB Mixed European Champion and expect Nicholas Peters to work his defensive magic as well this year.

As for those you may not have heard of just yet, look out for Jonah Leake, Ray Kwan and Harry Miles this year as well as GB U20 addition Kieran Wordsworth. Why should you look out for them? Carter says it’s because ‘we are a team filled with names you need to know – because these are the guys who are going to score on you’.

The club want to move on from last year with no losses, a new and enthusiastic captain and a new playbook to look towards the ‘new and improved’ Leeds this year. Watch out for them to complete a professional routine and play their own game.

Finally, any games against Sheffield will be the ones they will look forward to with a friendly rivalry, but for the neutral, games against Durham 1 and Manchester should be some tasty matches. This is a team aiming to go on the rampage this year and are chomping at the bit to get started.

My Predictions

Difficult to call as the top three could finish in any order, but so could the bottom depending on the conditions and just how the teams turn up – you could play these matches twice and get different results. However, from what I’ve heard and seen, here is where I would suggest:

1 Manchester

2 Leeds

3 Durham

4 York

5 Sheffield Hallam

6 Durham 2

Feature photo by Andrew Moss.

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